The Significance Of Madonna’s American Life, 15 Years On…
Whilst Madonna’s “American Life” delivered some of her most iconic pop-culture moments (that MTV Britney kiss!), the album served strong political themes, which today are still just as relevant.
The album with recurring themes of the American Dream and materialism peaked at number one in fourteen countries.
American Life was deemed by some as a concept album featuring political themes based around the United States, with Madonna explaining that she felt “like America has changed over the years and that a lot of our values seem to be materially oriented and so superficial. And we all seem to be obsessed with fame just for the sake of fame, no matter what — sell your soul to the devil if that’s what it takes. And we’re also completely obsessed with the way we look.”
Still recovering from the commercial disappointment of her movie Swept Away, Madonna changed her image completely to resemble that of a fighter, with inspirations from pictures of Argentinian guerrilla leader Che Guevara.
The album and singles weren’t met with the most favourable reviews, which wasnt helped by Madonna’s controversial actions in the lead singles original, and then banned video clip. Giving the album three out of five stars, Ben Ratliff from Rolling Stone summarised that the messages on the album are dour, but complimented Madonna for talking about the then-current situation of the nation.
“American Life” was panned by music critics, with Billboard criticising Madonna’s rapping, and Blender naming it as the ninth worst song of all time. Despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music commentators, “American Life” reached number one in Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, and the top ten in Australia, where the song was certified gold by ARIA. However, the song peaked at number 37 in the US Billboard Hot 100, staying in the chart for eight weeks, while it debuted and peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart.
Two music videos were shot for the song. The first (above) featured Madonna at a military-themed fashion show, ending with her throwing a hand grenade at George W. Bush. Prior to its release, the video caused controversy regarding its political, racial and religious implications, leading Madonna to release a statement explaining its concept. After the invasion of Iraq started, Madonna cancelled the release of the original music video, because of the political climate of the country at the time, and released an alternative version, featuring her in front of a backdrop of flags from around the world (below).
“Hollywood” had more commercial succes as a dance-pop and folk rock song that lyrically discussed American culture and greed, focusing on Hollywood, California, as a place of pop stars and illusory dreams.
The track found club success remixed by DJs such as Jacques Lu Cont, The Micronauts, Paul Oakenfold, Deepsky and Victor Calderone. The man behind Jacques Lu Cont would later go on to produce her Confessions on a Dancefloor album.
Madonna opened the MTV Video Music Awards performing a medley of “Like a Virgin” and “Hollywood” with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott. During the performance, Madonna kissed Spears and Aguilera on the lips, generating strong reactions from the media. Justin Timberlake’s face was priceless!
Music critics praised “Nothing Fails” as one of the best tracks from the album, so it was released in the US in hopes of attaining sales from “American Life”. However, it did not chart on the US Billboard Hot 100, making it the second single from the album to fail to chart in the US. However, the song reached number one on the Hot Dance Club Songs and Hot Singles Sales charts in the USA. Internationally, the song was a success, reaching the top ten in Australia, Belgium, Canada and Italy while topping the charts in Spain. There was no official video filmed for the release.
Reviewers called “Love Profusion” the highlight of “American Life”, complimenting its fusion of dance beats and acoustic guitar.
The track appeared on the Estée Lauder “Beyond Paradise” fragrance television commercial, which was similar to the music video and featured supermodel Carolyn Murphy. The advertisement debuted in more than 10,000 cinemas across the country.
Die Another Day
Whilst not officially considered a single release from the album, it was lumped onto the release after being the title track to the 2002 James Bond movie of the same name.
It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and two Grammy Awards for Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Music Video. The song was a commercial success, peaking at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was the top selling dance song in the US for both 2002 and 2003. “Die Another Day” reached the top of the charts in Canada, Italy, Romania and Spain and top-ten in a number of countries worldwide.
“American Life” was supported by Madonna’s sixth concert tour, the Re-Invention World Tour, which was the highest grossing tour of 2004 earning $125 million. The tour was chronicled in a documentary titled I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, which led to Madonna’s first live album of the same name. Highlights and fan favourites included, Vogue, Express Yourself, Burning Up, Imagine, Hanky Panky and Lament.